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Rock Band Rivals Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Despite the high price point, I found a lot to like in this Rock Band 4 expansion pack. It makes a lot of smart changes that give me new reasons to play the hundreds of songs I've been collecting since 2007. What's more, the game finally pushes the series forward and makes Rock Band social again. Now all that's missing is the online multiplayer, which is just around the corner. It only took a year and an expensive expansion pack, but Rock Band 4 finally feels like a proper sequel. Rating: 78%
Rock Band Rivals
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  • Review Score:

  • B+
Few people were more excited for the return of Rock Band than I was. After taking a five year hiatus, my favorite rhythm game returned from the dead to rock the masses on brand new consoles. But as I began shredding my way through literally hundreds of songs, I couldn't shake the feeling that Rock Band 4 was a big step backwards. It lacked modes, instruments and a lot of the old songs we were promised. I was disappointed, but still happy to see one of my favorite game series make a comeback.

To be fair to Harmonix, the Cambridge-based developer has done a lot to improve the Rock Band 4 experience. In the past year they've added new modes, tweaked the scoring, outfitted the band with new clothes and brought back almost all of the missing DLC songs and exports. And now, one year after the game first hit Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Rock Band is back with a brand new expansion pack that adds a whole tour bus full of new modes and options. So tune those guitars and warm-up your singing voice, because it's time to get the band back together.


In a lot of ways, Rock Band Rivals feels like the sequel Harmonix should have released last year. It benefits from twelve months of tweaks and updates, while also giving long-time players a bunch of great reasons to revisit the sizeable music library. And best of all, this expansion actually feels like it's pushing the series forward by connecting us with online friends in ways we've never seen in Rock Band.

Of the new modes added to Rivals, the "Rockudrama" is by far the flashiest. This is a linear story mode centered around a fake Behind the Music-style documentary focused on your band. We see them go from nobodies in the early 1990s to world-conquering superstars by the end of their career, all while dealing with the inevitable bumps in the road that come with fame and fortune. It's a cheesy journey that is put together using a lot of full-motion video interviews with other bands, roadies, former school teachers and a really annoying merch kid.

This is the kind of mode that often thinks it's funnier than it actually is. For all the times I was cracking up at the absurdity of the situation, there were just as many times when I was cringing at the gags that didn't land. But as goofy as it often is, this Rockumentary does offer a compelling story. We're treated to a short FMV cinema before (and sometimes after) playing a set of three songs. Much like Rock Band 4's tour mode, you'll run into gigs where you can select your own songs or vote on what to play next.

Rock Band Rivals (Xbox One)Click For the Full Picture Archive

The best reason to play through this mode is not for the hammy overacting or the terrible wigs, but rather the new gear and venues you can unlock. We're given a bunch of new stages to rock, including a cruise liner out at sea and a drug-fueled party at Burning Man. You'll also earn a lot of new accessories, instruments and clothes for the wardrobe, so you can finally give your year-old rock star a makeover.

For as silly as it is, chances are you're not going to come back to this mode more than a few times. The quest is linear and you're going to see a lot of the same footage used multiple times. But fear not, because the Rock Band Rivals' other new mode is designed around replay, giving online friends a new way to interact with each other and work towards a common goal.

This Rivals mode allows you to create a crew of up to nine friends, complete with cheesy name and logo. The idea is to work together to complete a series of challenges put forth by the rock gods at Harmonix. Take this week's challenge as an example: We're told to earn points by playing songs with the word "Love" in the title. This could be anything from "Friday I'm In Love" by The Cure to Bon Jovi singing "You Give Love a Bad Name."

Your crew will earn experience points for every instrument you play. That means that one person can take on all of the guitar parts, while leaving the drums, bass and singing for the rest of the crew. These parts can be filled in at any point throughout the week, but the challenge will keep changing and giving us new songs to conquer. Earn enough points in each song and your crew will gain promotions and collect badges.

Rock Band Rivals (Xbox One)Click For the Full Picture Archive

This is a fun way of doing co-op without actually having online multiplayer. As somebody who rarely plays drums, I like that I can team-up with somebody who's good with that instrument to help me gain levels. You'll also be able to win rock duels as you advance through the ranks, setting up some truly epic rivalries. A lot of the success of this mode will depend on the community and the variety of weekly challenges, but I love the idea and can see myself sticking with it going forward.

Beyond the two main new modes, Rivals does offer a few small changes that prove to be important. I like that earning high scores and playing new songs now gives our virtual rock stars experience points. Having a leveling system is a good hook to keep me playing, and I like that you can use it to compare your progress with friends. Another change allows players to rate songs, something that was inexplicably missing from Rock Band 4. Harmonix has done a good job cleaning up a lot of the UI and making everything run a bit smoother.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Rock Band release without some missing content. In this case, it's the online multiplayer mode that is lagging behind. While this long overdue mode won't show up until closer to the holidays, it is technically part of the Rivals package. In some ways, this feels like the final piece needed to make Rock Band 4 whole, so I'm hopeful that Harmonix gets it right.

Rock Band Rivals (Xbox One)Click For the Full Picture Archive

At $30, there's probably a case to be made that this expansion is a tad on the expensive side. The price is especially glaring when you realize Rock Band Rivals doesn't come with any new songs. People who pre-ordered the physical disc were given ten additional tracks from bands like Weezer and Semisonic, but those don't come with the standard expansion pack. This seems out of character for Harmonix, and I can see a lot of people being disappointed that Rivals doesn't offer an infusion of new music.

Despite the high price point, I found a lot to like in this Rock Band 4 expansion pack. It makes a lot of smart changes that give me new reasons to play the hundreds of songs I've been collecting since 2007. What's more, the game finally pushes the series forward and makes Rock Band social again. Now all that's missing is the online multiplayer, which is just around the corner. It only took a year and an expensive expansion pack, but Rock Band 4 finally feels like a proper sequel.
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